In Play with Tom Markowski


  • All

Clarkston and the Fifes, at long last, celebrate a state title

By: Tom Markowski, March 25, 2017, 4:07 pm

East Lansing – The family of Fifes finally have their dreams fulfilled.

Starved for a state championship since seemingly the Bronze Age, Clarkston High and the community celebrated on Saturday when the Wolves outlasted top-ranked Grand Rapids Christian, 75-69, in the Class A final at the Breslin Center.

Dan Fife played at Michigan after a fine career at Clarkston and was named captain of the 1971 team. That same year he got married and soon after Jan and Dan started a family. Little did many realize then but they would become the first family of Clarkston.

Their family, now extended throughout the country, gathered on the Breslin Center floor for pictures, hugs and a few tears after a game no one who calls Clarkston home will ever forget.

It took Fife 35 seasons to win the school’s first basketball title. Nine times his teams lost in a quarterfinal. Once, in 2009, they lost in a semifinal. Fife said after Friday’s semifinal victory over West Bloomfield that just to have the opportunity to coach in a final was satisfying. Winning a title is a different animal.

The Fife’s youngest of three sons, Dane, 37, is an assistant coach under Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Dane was a bundle of nerves, not only during the game but all week.

The eldest, Duggan, 43, played at Michigan and drove in from Ann Arbor for the game. The middle son, Jeremy, 40, flew in from Dallas with his wife and four children.

Jan was in the crowd behind one of the baskets with Duggan and Jeremy, and their families.

“It’s been a good run and there’s been a lot of heartbreaks,” Jan said. “(Dan) will be a little more relieved now.”

Duggan, Jeremy, and Dane all played for their father and all desperately wanted to win a title for their father. The loss in a quarterfinal to Detroit Central and Antonio Gates in ’98 still sticks with Dane, a senior then.

“I just know what my goal was, as youngster,” Dane said. “And that was to win a title for Clarkston. I know they wanted to win it for my dad. He represents everything about what Clarkston is. He motivates kids. He’s just an incredible guy.”

Duggan and Jeremy got out of their seats with about three minutes when it appeared that Clarkston would win to sit with Dane. They watched officials make calls that went against the Wolves and they cheered when players like Foster Loyer and Dylan Alderson made the plays that secured the victory.

When the final seconds ticked off they had a group hug and their minds drifted back to when they played for the Clarkston blue and gold.

“I thinking of all the gyms I was in,” Duggan said. “All of the fans who came out game after game. It’s great for the whole community. There were so many great players who came before this. (Assistant) coach Eric Chambers said before this season that we’d win it. But he says that every year.”

No need to point to next season. Like the Cubs, next season is now.

Born and raised in Carrier Mills, Ill., Dan moved with his parents, Dueyane and Judy, to Clarkston when he was 7-years-old. Since then Dan got it in his head that he wanted to win a state championship in Michigan.

“It’s really unexplainable,” Fife said. “I know I’ve been through three Clarkston gyms in my tenure. Clarkston is a special place. One reason is that it’s a one (public) high school town. Our families do a lot to support the athletic programs. It’s a great place to raise your kids.

“When I started to talk about it, I start to cry. I wish my mother and dad were here to enjoy it.

“It was my dream, from the time I was seven, I wanted to play at Jenison (Fieldhouse in East Lansing). (This team) is special because they did it. When the Fosters moved to Clarkston (Foster Loyer’s mother, Katie Loyer) said she didn’t see any championship banners and we’re going to get you one.”

So many good teams, some great like the Saginaw and Pontiac Central teams, kept Clarkston and Fife from winning a title. Players like Campy and Frank Russell from Pontiac, and Draymond Green from Saginaw, and Mateen Cleaves from Flint Northern all had a hand in keeping Clarkston from competing in a state final.

Yet, though it all, Dan Fife kept his life and the lives of his family members in perspective. It is just a game. On Friday Fife said that, simply, it’s his job to be a coach. His job is not necessarily to win state championships but it is a goal, this season and next.

“When is all said and done it’s who Dan’s sons have become,” Fife said. “Players come back and text me saying what they’re doing and such. You want your boys to get along and they do get along very well, better now that they’ve all left home.

“I think, in a lot of ways, you got to be lucky (to win a title). The stars have to align somehow.”

Jeremy said winning a title means so much to the Fifes. Basketball has been so a big part of their lives that, after all these years, Clarkston would get one, just one, championship trophy to hang their hats on and remember for years to come.

“All of us who played for my dad, all are happy for him,” Jeremy said. “The fact that he’s still coaching, he’d never quit until he won it. He’ll never admit that though.”

Even if it were true, he won’t have to now.